Archive for Volleyball Coaching Log

Coaching Log – January 3, 2018

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

It’s been nearly a month since my last update. Obviously, we haven’t been in the gym, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been happening.

Roster changes

Recall that we did a tryout last month for prospective transfer middles and liberos. As it turns out, one of the liberos was someone already committed to transfer to MSU – as a freshman. Literally that same day she met with a counselor about her schedule for the Spring semester. She’d played a fair amount as a defensive specialist for her prior school – a Division II program in our Region – but opted to transfer for non-volleyball reasons. She was club teammates with of one of our current freshmen, and did well at the tryout, so we felt she’d make a good addition to the team. Even better, she can be with us through second semester to get integrated with the team.

Recruiting

We’ve still been looking to add one or two additional players to our 2018 freshman class. A middle we offered, and thought we’d get, opted for another school. So it was back to work trying to find someone in that position. We plotted out the tournaments we’ll look to attend during this year’s juniors seasons to come and submitted the requisite travel authorization requests.

The first of those tournaments is actually this weekend. Nothing like jumping right into it in the new year!

Other stuff

There’s never a time when nothing’s going on, especially while school is still in session. The week after our tryout was the last week of classes – and the last time we were all going to be in the office at the same time for a while. We started putting together the Spring semester schedule, continued to do academic monitoring, and dealt with gear. Of course there was plenty of recruiting stuff to do, particularly with the juniors season starting to get rolling.

Looking back on the 2017 season

The NCAA women’s volleyball season is official over. Champions at all levels have been crowned. Seems like a good time to look back on the 2017 season with respect to MSU Volleyball to see how we did.

You can look back to my last in-season log entry to see how we ended the year in the Lone Star Conference (LSC). In this post I’ll take a look at things in more detailed fashion, and also look at the historical context of our performance.

The Rankings

We finished 16th in the NCAA Division II South Central Region’s RPI rankings, out of 33 teams. That’s up from 20th in 2016. On the Pablo ranking (available at Rick Kern), we ended the year at 115 out of 297 in Division II, a 12 spot improvement. In case you’re interested, we came in at 469 out of 1297 in the Pablo composite NCAA/NAIA all divisions ranking. We landed at 98 in the Massey Ratings, up from 143 in 2016.

2017 Team Statistical Performance

Let’s first look at how MSU compared to the rest of the LSC statistically. Here are the final team conference-only stats for 2017.

Our offensive performance lines up really well with where we finished in the league. We simply did not score enough in attack. We were a solid team on defense, and quite good when it came to serving and blocking. Unfortunately, that only gets you so far. At the end of the day, you have to put the ball away when you get the opportunity.

The biggest issue there was our low kill rate at just 31.5%. Could we have made fewer errors? Sure, but at 15.4% our error rate was not particularly high. It was within 1% of most of the teams above us, and better than some. By comparison, the Kill % for Tarleton was 39.4, Angelo and Kingsville were in the 37s, and everyone else other than Western NM was in the 34s. As you can see from our standing in terms of Opponent Digs and Opponent Blocks, we simply hit the ball at their defenders too often.

Year-over-Year Comparison

Offensively, we were basically at the same level in 2017 as we were in 2016 when our Hitting Efficiency was .163. Our 9th in that category this year is the same as it was last year, though we did move up one place in Kills/Set.

Looking at our offensive positions, it’s a mixed bag. We definitely got more production out of our middles – 3.7 k/s as compared to 2.9 k/s – and they hit for a little better efficiency. Our pins were less productive, however. The OHs might have had a slightly higher hitting percentage, but were a down a fraction in kills/set. The big drop was in the OPP position. We went from 2.35 kills and .174 efficiency to 1.03 and .069.

Our defense was where we really got better. We massively improved in Opponent Hitting Efficiency, going from .221 to .183. Our block was a huge factor there, as we increased our Blocks/Set by nearly 1 whole block. We jumped from 10th to 4th in that category. We also were better in digs, improving to 16.17 from 13.76 and moved up to 7th from 9th.

At the individual level, the first thing that really jumps out is the production at our libero position. In 2016 we didn’t have anyone above 2.63 digs/set. This season our libero finished at 4.81. Not surprisingly, there are also some dramatic improvements in blocking. In the OPP position we went from 0.48 to 1.02. Our MBs in 2016 were at 0.61 and 0.54. This year it was 1.21 and 0.86.

Historical perspective

While the program still has a way to go in becoming what we all think it could be, and this season didn’t meet expectations in some ways, it still had some good things happen with respect to the history of MSU Volleyball.

  • First ever foreign trip.
  • First time beating West Texas after more than 30 failed attempts.
  • Most overall and conference wins since 2013.
  • The 4-match win streak we had early in the season was the longest since 2013, and the longest away from home since 2011.
  • This was the first season since at least 2008, when national rankings started to be noted on the schedule, that our only non-conference losses were to ranked teams.
  • The set we took off of Central Oklahoma was the first we’d taken from a ranked team since 2014 and the first against a non-conference ranked team since 2011.
  • Season Blocks/Set were 6th highest on record, Total Blocks the 8th highest, and our 2.20 Blocks/Set in the LSC were the most since 2010.
  • Our 2nd place position in the LSC in Aces/Set was our best position since 2007
  • The 4th place our top OH held in the LSC Kills/Set ranking was highest for an MSU attacker on record (2004 the first available).
  • Our setter’s 3rd place in conference Assists/Set was the best ranking for an MSU player since 2008.
  • Our freshman MB’s 1.21 Blocks/Set in the LSC was the most for an MSU player since 2005.

We can add in the fact that our combined total of 27 wins over the last two seasons is the most since the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. We need 14 wins in 2018 for the best 3-year total since 2008 to 2010.

Thoughts on the season – big picture

Generally speaking, I am satisfied with the season. Was it disappointing to miss out on the conference tournament? Of course.That fact that we did so is a good lesson in how things you have no control over can decide your fate. We had more wins this year than last, but finished one place lower in the standings.

At the same time, though, it’s also a lesson in how you need to perform every time out. Had we won a couple of those matches we lost early in the season due to really poor performances, our season could have ended very differently.

I think one of the issues we had early in the conference season is that we were too focused on outcome.In particular, I think there was too much pressure to win. That may sound a bit odd on the face of it, but stick with me.

The idea of reaching the NCAA tournament had taken hold in a lot of minds. It’s something the program hasn’t done since 2007, so obviously it’s a major goal. The problem, though, is only 3 or 4 teams from the conference make the NCAA tournament. We were a team that barely made it into the top 8 of the LSC in 2016. It’s not such an easy thing in a competitive conference to move up 4-5 spots from one year to the next.

So there was all this internal pressure to win at the start of the LSC season. This was in a group of players with no history of being in that kind of situation, and thus no real tools to handle it. It’s something we’re working on, but it takes time and experience. On top of that, the players are sick of losing – especially in conference. That can lead to playing not to lose rather than playing to win. I think we definitely had issues with that over the course of the season.

The combination of those two things made for some notable ups and downs in mentality. This wasn’t helped at all by the death of an MSU football player early in the season. That threw everyone for an emotional loop. These are young people who haven’t had to deal much with that sort of thing yet in their lives.

All in all, though, I think the season represented pretty good progress. We finished #16 in the NCAA South Central Region rankings, out of 33 teams. That’s up from #20 in 2016, and #25 in 2015. Importantly, we kept improving – and wanting to improve – right up to the end. That was definitely not the case in 2016 where we basically just survived the last couple of weeks of the season.

Thoughts on the season – the details

In any season there are areas which go well and those that don’t. The 2017 was no different in that regard.

From a playing perspective, the major objective we had coming out of the 2016 season was better defense. Our block was poor and we didn’t dig nearly as many balls as we felt we should. We made defense the top priority for our off-season development. We definitely were much better in that arena this year. The one area we persistently struggled in, though, was defending against the right side attack.

The offense for me was a disappointment. We just never could get that going the way we wanted. Part of it was a decided lack of any real right side threat. We might have been able to get more there with a personnel change, but it would have meant significantly reducing our blocking presence. In any case, that’s a change we really couldn’t have made until later in the season given who was available and the progression of player development.

The other trouble area was the second OH position. The two players who took turns there struggled with their consistency and made far too many errors in attack. We were not helped by losing our freshman OH early on to a knee injury. She would have at least challenged for playing time.

One thing I like a lot is that our senior players went out on their best season at MSU. I mean that both in terms of team and personal performance. Our attacking players had their most kills and their best hitting percentages this year. Our defensive players had their most digs this year. And our setter had her most assists (and digs) this season. You expect that to be the case, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Looking forward

It will be an interesting situation for the program moving forward. Next season we will only have two players with more than a single season’s experience at MSU. Everyone else will either be 2017 or 2018 freshmen or transfers. One the one hand that means little in the way of experience at our level of competition. On the other hand, though, it also means none of the baggage left over from the teams that finished last in the LSC in 2014 and 2015. In a way, now is when the real future for MSU Volleyball is shaped. That’s pretty exciting.

Coaching Log – December 4, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The end of the regular season doesn’t mean the end of the work! Here’s what’s been going on since my last update. I’ll follow this up with more of a season recap post.

Lone Star Conference Post-Season

The conference tournament took place November 16-18 at Tarleton, the top seed as regular season champions. Here’s the final regular season standings.

Angelo held the tiebreaker over Kingsville to take the #3 seed in the tournament. Similarly, Western NM held the tiebreak over Eastern NM to get the #7 seed.

Here’s the bracket.

#1 Tarleton State vs. #8 Eastern New Mexico
#4 Texas A&M-Kingsville vs. #5 West Texas A&M
#3 Angelo State vs. #6 Texas Woman’s
#2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. #7 Western New Mexico

Woman’s beat Angelo and WT beat Kingsville in first round upsets. Tarleton and Commerce both advanced. In the semifinals, Tarleton beat West Texas, while Woman’s beat Commerce. Tarleton handled Woman’s easily in the final to secure the conference’s automatic qualification to the NCAA tournament.

In the other conferences in our NCAA region, top seeded Regis won the RMAC tournament. In an upset, however, St. Mary’s won the Heartland tournament, defeating top seed Arkansas-Fort Smith. Although AFS went into the tournament as the #7 team in the Region rankings, the NCAA selection committee decided their loss was sufficient to drop them out. St. Mary’s received the Heartland’s automatic bid as tournament champion, to go along with Tarleton and Regis from the other conferences. The five at-large bids were then split between Lonestar and RMAC, with the LSC getting three places. Angelo, West Texas, and Commerce filled those spots.

Here’s the bracket.

#1 Regis vs. #8 St. Mary’s
#4 Colorado School of Mines vs. #5 Angelo
#3 Metro State vs. #6 Commerce
#2 Tarleton State vs. #7 West Texas

The first three matches all went by the seedings, though Commerce did push Metro State to five sets. The big surprise was West Texas winning in four over Tarleton. In the second round WT beat Metro State. They then faced Regis in the region final. That’s where the run ended, in a 3-1 loss.

Awards

Two of our players were selected for conference recognition. Our senior libero was voted to 2nd team All-Conference. She finished 3rd in the conference in digs/set. You may recall that last season she was also selected to the 2nd team as an OH.

Our senior setter was Honorable Mention All-Conference. She received similar recognition in 2016. This year she finished 3rd in the LSC in assists per set. She was also selected to the Academic All-Conference team. We were actually surprised our senior OH did not get the academic award.

Player Meetings

We met with all the players the week after our season ended. That included the seniors, though in their case it was more about making sure they knew expectations of them moving forward (study hall, grade checks, volunteer hours). Mainly the idea was to do a look back. We plan to do more forward looking and planning at the start of second term.

Roster Changes

Two of the juniors in the team told us during their meetings that they will not return for 2018. Neither were a huge surprise.

One was a defensive specialist who had some ups and downs this year. It seemed like every time she was starting to perform well something happened (injury, illness) to set her back. More than that, though, she’s heading into a senior year where her class schedule looks like it will make it just about impossible to be on the team.

The other is a walk-on setter. She played a lot during her freshman year, but barely at all since. The Argentina trip gave her a chance to play in competitive matches, and she filled in when our senior setter went down with an ankle injury. She was third on the depth chart, with our sophomore setter ahead of her. Despite that, she was never a complainer. Given the playing situation, and increasing demands on the academic side of things, it is not too surprising she’s decided to change priorities.

Recruiting

November features the NCAA early signing period. We had four players sign their National Letters of Intent. One is a setter from Kansas, one was an OH from Texas, and the other two are defensive specialists/liberos, also from Texas.

Four additions may seem like a lot, but in our case it’s just getting started. We’re losing five players to graduation. Add to that the two I mentioned above who will not return next season and you’re up to needing seven to keep the ranks at the same number.

Even before figuring in the additional departures we were planning to probably bring in two more players. One is a transfer MB because we won’t have much experience in that position next season. We were also thinking to bring in a freshman MB to get our numbers in that position up to four. You can get away with three (many pro and international teams do), but we’d feel more comfortable with the additional body – especially if it was a more developmental player.

With the departure of a setter and a defensive specialist, we’re now also thinking about bringing in players to fill those positions. We’re looking transfer for the DS, as we’ll have a senior and two freshmen in that position. For the setter, though, a second freshman would work just fine in all likelihood.

Tryouts

We ran a tryout for potential transfers. It was tricky to fit in. We have to give the players time off after the season ends and cannot do anything inside the last 7 days before finals. Also, we had to use the secondary gym as basketball had the main one all tied up.

I think we had nine total. There were three prospective middle transfers and four potential liberos. A couple others came for next year’s consideration. All were from local junior colleges. We also had a current MSU student come to tryout, but had to put her off because of an issue with her physical.

Coaching Log – November 13, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

On to the final week of the Lone Star Conference season. There weren’t any major surprises in the prior week’s results, though for our sake we would have liked a couple of them to go differently. In particular, it would have been good if Texas Woman’s had won at Eastern NM. They did not, though. Combine that with our own results and the end result is that we are mathematically eliminated from the conference tournament for 2017.

Interesting to note that 8 out of the 11 teams had a conference record of at least .500.

Tarleton locked in the #1 spot for the regular season, and as a result will host the LSC tournament. Commerce was very likely to end up #2 given they had UTPB at home on Friday and only needed one win to seal the deal. After that, there were a number of different possibilities for how tournament seeding could fall out.

Monday

Our senior setter was back in training, though with a heavily taped ankle. Not surprisingly, that slowed her down, but she was effectively nevertheless. At least offensively, anyway.

Practice featured a lot of competition. We started with Brazilian Tennis, then shifted to a type of 5 v 5 game. It featured a setter, middle, and three back row players. Basically, it was mainly a back row attacking game, with middle attacks included to let our setters and MBs work on their connections. A key feature of the game was dig-or-die scoring. That’s where a team goes back to 0 if they fail to at least touch a ball on defense (or coverage).

After a little time working on our pin attack connections off serve reception, we shifted to a 5 v 5 game. This time, instead of 2-up/3-back as we played last week, we went 3-up/2-back. That put more pressure on the back row players to cover ground defensively. We played a game to 15, normal scoring.

Our final exercise was 6 v 6 play called broken wheel. That is where one side stays in a single rotation while the other side plays through all six of theirs. This time we played it with the sides alternating as the broken one in a certain rotation. An aggregate score was kept for both sides being broken to determine a winner.

Tuesday

It was our last road match of the year, at Dallas Baptist. They came in tied for 4th in the Heartland Conference. They’d won four of their last five matches. Under normal circumstances we would we be considered favorites. Given recent injuries and performances, though, plus being on the road, maybe not so much in this case.

The gym at DBU is apparently a former chapel. It has interesting amphitheater seating on one side. There are more traditional bleachers on the other side.

The went 5 sets. Our senior setter did play, though she clearly had mobility issues. That causes a couple problems with 2nd balls, as you might expect.

The real twist was that our season-long libero all season shifted to OH. She was an All-Conference hitter in 2016, but bad knees forced us to move her. She’d been hitting in practice some, and really tore things up on Monday. The match definitely was an indication of her former talents, even if she couldn’t jump as high or move as fast. Not surprisingly, she fatigued toward the end. Still, she finished with 20+ kills, and 20 digs. In the back row, she played in her normal Position 5, shifting the libero we used in her place (our senior DS) into 6.

Arguably, the match should not have gone 5 sets. Mental errors put us in a hole a couple of times. Defending the right side attack remained a struggle. We fought throughout, though, including at the end of the 5th. We were down 14-12, but took it 17-15. Our other OH also got 20+ kills.

The win means our only non-conference losses for the season were to ranked teams. It’s the first time MSU has done that since at least as far back as we started noting poll rankings in the schedule (2008 or 2009).

Wednesday

Last practice of the season. After watching some video ahead of Thursday’s match, we kept it fairly light – only going a little over an hour on court. The primary elements were an offense vs. defense drill to work on some of the rotations we struggled with on Tuesday, and a narrow court game pitting MB/OH vs. MB/RS. It’s one we played before and had the benefit of encouraging a lot of hitter coverage.

The second round of NCAA regional rankings came out. Unfortunately, our three losses the prior week meant we dropped a place to drop down to 15 from 14 the week before.

Thursday

We hosted Cameron this evening. We lost to them at their place early in the conference season in what we felt was a very poor performance. They had only one conference win since (vs. UTPB) and were winless in away matches for 2017.

We completed the set for Cameron with a strong 3-0 win. Our performance was dominant, making the earlier loss even more frustrating. We hit .313 on the match, our second base performance of the year. At the same time, we held them to just .060. Along the way we tallied 8 blocks and 6 aces to keep us up in the conference rankings in those categories.

Friday

Our final match of the year was against Kingsville. They came in tied for 3rd in the conference standings. We had a decent match against them the first time around, at least after the first set. Their OPP really killed us, though. She was 15 of 29 hitting.

We did slightly better slowing her down this time. Unfortunately, other hitters stepped it up. We had periods where we put them under serious pressure. We just weren’t able to take enough advantage offensively. A few too many hitting errors and not enough kills. Basically, the story of our season against better teams. The final result was a 3-1 loss.

Of course, this being our final home match of the season, it was also Senior Night. We had five of them to honor. That meant spending a chunk of the morning preparing their gifts (framed jerseys).

That’s it

And so ended the 2017 season for MSU Volleyball. It was definitely a major experience. In my next update I’ll provide a recap. I’ll post that one after the dust settles, we find out what kind of awards our players receive, and all that.

 

Coaching Log – November 6, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Most of the prior week Lone Star Conference results were fairly predictable. Interestingly, however, West Texas earned home wins over both Tarleton and Angelo. The latter was probably not a major surprise given how poorly Angelo has done on the road this year. Tarleton, though, has looked quite dominant. Commerce beat Kingsville at home, but the latter picked up a win at Texas Woman’s. Woman’s also played a couple of non-conference matches on Saturday. Unfortunately for the conference, Woman’s lost a 5-set match to one of them. Not a good loss.

The results leave the standings looking like this.

Our 13 overall wins is better than the 12 we recorded last year. Further, we’ve reached the 6 LSC wins we accumulated in 2016. That was enough to reach last year’s conference tournament, but obviously it won’t be this year’s edition. To start the week, we had five LSC matches left to make a move, including three this week. We’re done with the New Mexico schools, but had both Texas Woman’s and Angelo ahead, along with Cameron below us.

I figured we need at least two wins, maybe three. Eastern NM had a very winnable match vs. UTPB on Tuesday, but the rest of their schedule featured Angelo and Tarleton away, plus Commerce at home. A win in any of those would be a surprise result. The key match was looking like home vs. Texas Woman’s. TW won the first time around, 3-1.

UTPB is also on the remaining schedule for TW, which seems a likely win. Along with having to go to Eastern NM, they also faced a trip to Western NM. Not good odds for a win there. A home match vs. West Texas is an unknown quantity. WT has some good wins, but their performance away from home hasn’t been very good.

Monday

As usual, we started with the team going over some of the stats from the week prior. Our serve receive passing was a major positive. Of course, we also had to go over some of the less positives. That dovetailed into some video review. We went over two parts of recent matches. One was the second half of the 3rd set against Western, starting when we were up 17-14 through to the 23-25 finish. The other was the 4th set against Eastern. We watched from when we went up 17-11 through to the 25-23 conclusion. The idea was to look at our breakdown points with an eye toward being better in those situations. After that we did a review of our last match against Tuesday’s opposition.

The actual practice only went about an hour. Most of it was dedicated to serve reception to attack, which we’ve done a lot of lately. It started with just serving to a receiving group going up against some block. We eventually shifted to playing out rallies. Much of our focus was on expanding our options in Rotation 1.

Tuesday

We made our final conference road trip of the season to Texas Woman’s. As you can see from the standings, they were just one match ahead of us going in. A win would pull us level. Also, it would give us the edge against Woman’s as the first tiebreak is head-to-head (the recent win at Eastern ensured we also held the tiebreak against them).

Things definitely didn’t go as we’d have hoped. Our offense did quite well. We hit .269 overall, with both MBs, our OPP, and one of our OHs coming in at .300 or better. Unfortunately, our defense didn’t match that. We allowed TW to hit .310 overall. In two of the four sets played we allowed them to register 20+ kills!

Needless to say, the loss put us in a big hole in our quest to qualify for the LSC tournament.

Wednesday

The first set of Division II volleyball regional rankings for 2017 were published. The Lone Star Conference is part of the South Central Region. Not surprisingly, Midwestern State is not in the Top-10. If you scroll down to the bottom you’ll see a list of links to the PDF files for each Region. They are the complete rankings based on the RPI of each team. We currently sit at #14.

Before practice we showed the team a 5-minute video made up of photos from the season thus far. A lot of them were taken during the Buenos Aires trip. It was a reminder of how far we’ve come and all the work everyone has put in. We felt the team could use something like that after the disappointment of the prior evening’s match.

Practice featured a lot of serving. We felt our serves against TW failed to hit our targets well enough. We also did a lot of hitting into a defense with either no block or just a single one. Our middles struggled to close during the match, so we wanted to work on our defense playing in that kind of situation.

Thursday

We had a 2019 prospect in for a bit of a tryout with the the team. A little early perhaps, but a player the head coach wanted to see in our context.

Practice was heavy game play. We started with a competitive version of cooperative cross-court hitting. The idea was in particular to work on defense in a 1-block or no-block situation. We progressed on that team by then shifting to 5 v 5, as we did on Wednesday, with two pin hitters up and three defenders back.

The final game was a wash drill. In this case, the team that won the service rally earned the right to defend against a right side attack. If they won that second rally (initiated by a free ball), they earned the big point. Initially, we didn’t put any additional requirement on things. I didn’t like that the defending team knew the right side attack was coming, though. Too easy for them to put up a solid block. We eventually shifted and said they could only single block that first ball. It would probably have been better if we did something to encourage a right side attack, but not require it to make things a bit more realistic.

Friday

We hosted conference leaders Tarleton and national #14 this evening. Unlike the rest of the conference, they did not have a Tuesday match.

If you told me ahead of time that we’d lose 3-1 I would not have been surprised at the result given the opposition. The path to that result proved unexpected, however. We didn’t start well. Very mental. No composure. We forgot the things we’d just talked about in our scouting. Our serving was much too easy. More playing not to lose than playing to win.

Our starting setter came down on a foot early during the 2nd set, spraining her ankle. That meant we had to insert our 3rd setter, as our 2nd is out for the season after breaking a finger a few weeks back. As you may recall, our 3rd setter had her own injury issue not long ago thanks to a concussion.

In sports you sometimes see a team rally when a key player goes down. That definitely happened in this case. The team energy went up. Our defense became very focused, likely because they now had to defend behind a smaller block (not that our starting setter is overly tall either). We ended up playing some of the best defense of the season. We did not get our normal 2+ blocks per set (finished with just 3), but we averaged 22 digs per set. It helped us rally back late to win the 3rd set.

We could not hold on to that edge, though. That was thanks in large part to Tarleton playing some of the most ridiculously good defense I’ve ever seen. We attacked aggressively, but they seemed to get a hand on everything. Bodies were flying all over the place to make saves.

Just to make things even more interesting, our 3rd setter took a blow to the face at one point. That had us looking around for who we could possibly have set. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be serious.

Saturday

It was #23 Angelo coming to town for an early start. We normally play at 2:00 on Saturdays, but because of other events we had to shift it to a noon start. Angelo hosted Kingsville on Tuesday, winning 3-0, then played at Cameron on Friday where they won in four.

We got off to a good start, working our way out to a 16-9 lead in the first set. Pretty much from there, though, it was all down hill. We did a good job limiting their top hitter, but we couldn’t do much about the rest of them. Definitely not the same level of defensive performance as what we put together on Friday. Our serve reception had periods of struggle. The result was a definite struggle to generate much in the way of attack.

Coaching Log – October 30, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Many of the Lone Star Conference teams played three matches last week, so lots of results to potentially impact the standings. The most interesting result was probably Angelo beating Commerce 3-0. Here’s how the standings were to start the new week.

Ninth place is just outside the conference tournament places, so we need to make a move. Given the congestion in the standings, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a team to make a big move in a short time. Obviously, making the tournament is most important, but we’d rather avoid a repeat of last season. We went in as the 8th seed, meaning a first round match up against then #1 Angelo, who hosted the tournament. Tarleton is looking favorite to host this year, and we’ve already played them at their place once.

Monday

After the busy weekend of play, we gave the players the day off from practice. They did lift in the morning, but otherwise we just reviewed video. That started with our normal weekly stats discussion. The interesting observation we made was that our transition hitting numbers were not very good. This was a surprise as we did well in that phase of the game earlier in the season.

In terms of the video review, we began with a review of our home match vs. Western NM. It was one of the real disappointments of the first round. We lost despite earning 15 more points than them by way of kills, aces, and blocks. Watching the match was a combination of refreshing our memory about an upcoming opponent and reinforcing how much better we have played in recent matches.

After watching that video all together, we split the team into groups to watch more recent footage. The middles and setters, pin hitters, and liberos/DSs each watched a set from a different match. They then all came back together to share their observations.

Tuesday

This was our last training Tuesday of the regular season as we have matches on the remaining ones. Back to the split groups. The focus remained on our attack, with a combination of in-system and out-of-system work. There was a lot of serve reception as well.

Wednesday

Practice started with a simple 4-person pepper to work on controlling 3rd ball contacts being sent over the net. We extended this by playing a 2-contact game. By that I mean a team only had two contacts on their side to return the ball rather than three. That forces a lot of “bad ball” situations. Each rally started with a coach hitting a down ball over the net. This was to avoid the players trying to pass serve in an attackable fashion.

Next was a narrow court (about 2/3rds width) 5 v 5 game. We set it up so it was MB/OH vs MB/RS. The side with the RS also had an OH as a third blocker, but not an eligible hitter. The side with the OH attacker had the setter up. Defensively, we then had a middle back and line defender. The intention of these games (we played three games to 10) was to put the attackers in a situation where they faced a lot of good blocks. Thus, it became a major problem solving exercise. How do I score? It also resulted in a lot of hitter coverage work.

We shifted back to 6 v 6 for the rest of the session. First we played 22 v 22. As we did last week, the 2nd ball was initiated at the setter to create an out-of-system play.

The last game was a normal one – sort of. We played a 20-point game where once a team reached 15 points they could only score if they served. In other words, they could not just side out to finish the game. They had to earn “real” points, or break points, or whatever you want to call them.

We did some target serving to finishing the session.

Thursday

We had an early morning practice (6am) before hopping on the bus at 8am for our longest road trip of the season. The session was very much serving and passing oriented, with lots of pass-to-attack work. We only went for about an hour, though. All together, our trip too better than 13 hours.

Friday

The weekend’s first match was at Western New Mexico. We came in never having won their place and never having beaten them in conference play. This is also a team we played poorly against at home. In other words, lots of motivation to want to beat them. They had an away match at Eastern New Mexico during the week, which they lost 0-3.

Western play much better in this match. We definitely had our chance to take them down. After losing the first, then winning the second set, we were ahead in the later stages of the 3rd, but couldn’t close it out. It was a 3-1 loss in the end. Our middles did well, but could not get it done well enough on the pins. We hit only .136, despite a very good night in terms of serve reception. On top of that, our defense didn’t get the job done, allowing Western to hit .227.

Saturday

It was Eastern NM for the second match of the weekend. After beating Western NM earlier in the week, they also beat Cameron on Friday. After losing our prior match, this was a big one for our chances to make the conference tournament.

We jumped on them well in the first two sets. Our offense – led by our middles – was strong, while our defense held them to sub-.100 hitting. Eastern looked listless, like they didn’t even want to be there. It was a strange thing to see in a home team. They definitely turned that around, though. Our offense wasn’t as potent and we struggled to stop them. The result was a tight loss.

Probably not surprisingly, that gave the opposition some momentum. They used that to jump all over us to start the 4th set, going up 5-0. We managed to rebound, and then to get well ahead. We had a breakdown mid-set, though. A 5-point lead melted away rather quickly, and we let Eastern get ahead going into the later stages. We eventually got back on track, though, and squeezed out the win. I would have been very worried about a 5th set had we lost.

In the end we hit .230, thanks to another strong night from our middles. Our OHs had good moments, but not consistently enough. In parts it was being too conservative and in others it was making bad errors. Once more, our passers did well. So did our servers. We probably missed too many, but we tallied 11 aces and consistently had them out of sorts. That helped us on defense. We blocked them 12 times and they hit only .125 – keeping them below .100 in three of the four sets.

Coaching Log – October 23, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The first half of the season is over. Thanks to the weekend results, it looks like at least some stuff is starting to settle out. Other stuff, though, remains a bit muddled. This latter bit was helped by Angelo losing both their matches – each in 5 – on the road at the New Mexico schools. For our own part we would have preferred they won both. It would have kept things tighter in our vicinity.

Tarleton continued to roll, with wins at both the New Mexico schools, and Commerce picked up wins at West Texas and UTPB to firm up their position at #2 in the standings.

A look at the statistics tells the story of our position in the standings. Our offense has not been nearly good enough. While we’re 4th in terms of opponent hitting efficiency, we’re 10th when it comes to our own attacking. Part of the defensive side of things is that our block ranks 3rd in terms of blocks/set. We rank 5th in aces/set, but not helping our offense is that we’ve suffered more aces/set than anyone else.

Last year we managed to get into the conference tournament with 6 wins, but that was by the skin of our teeth. I suspect we need to have 7 or 8 to get in this year given how tight things are in the middle of the standings. That means we need 4 or 5 wins in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule does not help us in that regard. We have to go to the New Mexico schools, and we also have away matches at Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That’s three out of four against teams we’re battling for a place in the tournament.

On the plus side, we get Angelo and West Texas at home. Neither of them has played all that well on the road. Obviously, we must beat the two teams below us, and we get both of them at home as well.

Monday

As per usual, we started with a look back. In particular, we went over the stats for the first half of the conference season. We talked about where we need to get better (offense), and we talked about where we’ve done well (block/defense). As for serving, we talked about how we can probably get a little more aggressive. One of the observations was that our middles have the highest error % among our attackers with the exception of one. Definitely not what you want to see!

After the statistical evaluation, we took a look at video from our last match against Tuesday’s opponent. Then we spent some time looking at the things we’ve accomplished this year and the things we could yet accomplish. This was from the perspective of history – things either not done in several years or not done at all in program history.

Practice was less than 90 minutes. Our concussed setter was finally back in training. We started them off with a short game of Brazilian tennis, then moved into some pass-to-attack offense off serve reception. Worked on our attack in line with our need to get better in that facet of the game. We allowed the defending side to run middle attacks back in transition as an extension. An out-of-system game followed to continue to work in aggressive attacks in that phase. We wrapped up with a game of 5 v 5 where we played 3-up/2-back.

Tuesday

The first match of the second half of the LSC season was at Commerce. Obviously, as you can see from the standings above, they are doing well this season.Their only two conference losses were away to Texas Woman’s and away to Kingsville.

We didn’t play particularly well against them the last time out. This time was very different. In the end, it was a 3-2 loss, with a 15-13 final set, but it was probably our best collective performance of the season. We didn’t hit for a high percentage (just .154 for the match), but kept them even lower (.123). Our serve was serve was effective through most of the match. Our block continued to cause problems for opposing hitters, and our serve reception was generally solid. We actually outscored Commerce 102-100 overall, and 72-65 in terms of earned points.

So why did we lose? Well, our out-of-system hitting produced a lot of errors. Of our 28 total hitting errors, half happened while out-of-system. Given how well our defense did, we would have been well served keeping those balls in play. There were a couple of patches where they gave us trouble in serve receive.

Beyond that, though, it just came down to timing. We missed a really poor serve into the net at 7-7 in the 5th. At 9-8 our freshman middle hit a quick just inches wide. Even after that, we came back from 11-8 to take a 13-12 lead. After Commerce sided-out, though, our senior DS, who otherwise passed well on the night, had a serve go right through her hands to set up match point.

Wednesday

The head coach had to be away from campus at that time, so I got to attend the bi-weekly (I think) athletic luncheon in her place. Basically, it’s a group of the older supporters of MSU Athletics getting an update on things from each of the in-season sports. I told them about our recent performances and what we were looking forward to for the upcoming weekend.

We watched some video before practice as part of our prep for Friday. The first part was looking back on our first time playing West Texas. The second was looking at their match from Tuesday night.

Practice itself focused on out-of-system attacking. We did three main activities. The first was a repeat of the pass-to-attack vs. a defense type work we’ve done a lot of lately. From there we moved on to a continuous 3-up/2-back game. The ball was initiated at the setter to force an out-of-system first attack. From there the rallies proceeded normally. Lastly, we played 6 v 6 with bonus points for out-of-system kills.

While we definitely worked on necessary things, the concentration could have been better. But for the day after a tight 5-set match on the road, it wasn’t horrible.

Thursday

Out-of-system attacking continued to be the big theme. After warming up with a spirited game of Brazilian tennis, we got right into it. The first drill was a dig-set-attack exercise. A ball was initiated at a wing defender. The dig was then set to one of the pins by the other wing defender, and was attacked from there. An elastic was run between the antennae to encourage the hitters to swing high.

We followed with a repeat of the 3-up/2-back game from Wednesday. After a few rounds of serve receive to attack, when then played 22 v 22 to finish up. To keep working on out-of-system hitting, we initiated the second ball to the winning side’s setter.

All in all we were pretty happy with how things went. We saw some strong swings.

After practice the team did some community service time at a local middle school. We then had Homecoming activities in the evening.

Friday

We hosted a tri-match this day. The first was the return match against West Texas. They came in at 7-5 in conference after beating Eastern NM earlier in the week.

We finally broke the streak! MSU had not won against WT in 34 tries before this match. Not only did we win, we won 3-0 in convincing fashion. Our offense wasn’t stellar (.175), but we did the business in serve and defense. We tallied 8 aces and they only hit .082.

Our second match of the day was against Newman, from the Heartland Conference. They were picked 4th in the pre-season voting after finishing 2016 tied for 3rd. They played West Texas before playing us. The result was a 3-0 loss without much challenge after the first set. That followed a loss Thursday night at Lubbock Christian (making them 3-4 in conference).

Unfortunately, we did not quite repeat WT’s earlier performance. We struggled mentally. The result was some not so great play – poor decisions, failing to make adjustments quickly enough, etc. To their credit, Newman fought us hard and gave us fits defensively. They hit .236 for the match. Fortunately, we hit .291. Our middles both hit near .400. The final result was a 3-1 win, but it was really tight until the fourth set.

The Newman win put up to 7 non-conference victories for the year. That’s better than the 6 we got last season. It’s also the most since 2013, and the first time since then that we’ll having a winning non-LSC record.

Saturday

We played UTPB for the second time. They lost a 5-setter to Western NM on Wednesday. They also lost a 5-setter at Cameron on Friday night.

In the early stages we had our struggles. UTPB has a couple of powerful attackers and it took us a while to come to grips with them. I mean that both in terms of choking off their opportunities through serving pressure and in our blocking. In the end we won comfortably, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

Offensively, we did OK. Our hitting efficiency was just below .200. Our servers tallied 7 aces and our block got 9 stuffs That contributed to UTPB only hitting .061. Interestingly, our big OPP got no blocks. They basically set away from her. Our OHs put in a pretty good performance there, though, taking part in 5 blocks on that side of the net.

Coaching Log – October 16, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The weekend results could probably be said to be in our favor. Eastern NM and Western NM both lost two – each to Commerce and Texas Woman’s. That put them on 4 losses each with Angelo and Tarleton upcoming this week. Not matches they’d be expected to win. Cameron and UTPB also lost their weekend fixtures, to keep both at the bottom of the standings. Interestingly, Kingsville was pushed to 5 sets by UTPB, then lost in 4 at West Texas. That sees both Kingsville and WT also sitting on 4 losses.

Here’s the league standings as we head into the final week of the first half of the season.

Monday

We started with the usual stats talk that we normally do on Mondays. On the plus side, our defenses is performing well. We’re among the top teams in the league in terms of opponent hitting efficiency. Our block is a definite factor there, as we entered the week 3rd place in the LSC rankings in blocks/set. Unfortunately, we have struggled mightily in attack. Over the weekend we managed a measly 21% kill rate, and for the conference season so far we stand 10th of the 11 teams in hitting efficiency. That’s not the sort of thing that earns a team many wins.

We reviewed video of our weekend attacks with the players. In particular, we identified a few key places where we feel we can make improvements. Overall, though, it was mainly about taking more aggressive swings. Our hitters seem to have been more tentative in recent weeks. Need to get back to the high and hard swings that featured in our attack earlier in the season.

Practice focused on these things, though it was a fairly short and low intensity affair. Our medical issues continue to mount. Our 2nd setter still has her broken finger in a cast for a couple more weeks. Setter #3 was waiting for clearance to play after her concussion. Of course, our freshman OH remains out long-term due to her knee injury. For this particular session we added our senior MB with shoulder issues. On top of that, our junior was out sick.

We began with some servers vs. passers, then shifted to a more attacking focus. The rest of the session featured a variety of games aimed at stimulating aggressive attacks. We made some good progress in certain areas.

Tuesday

We took a break from conference play with a home match against Lubbock Christian. They finished 2nd in the Heartland Conference last year and came in to the match 4th in that league. We played them at their place in 2016, losing a close 5-setter. This was one of the non-conference matches we play to help influence our NCAA South Central Region ranking, since Heartland is part of that Region with ours.

This definitely wasn’t a pretty match. Both sides made their fair share of errors and gave up runs of points at times. That led to a split during the first two sets, both of which were only decided by two points. In the first we allowed them to come back after getting a large lead. In the second it was us who came back, but could not finish it off. From there, though, we coasted to relatively easy wins.

Our defense was again solid, holding LCU to just an .076 hitting efficiency. They only scored on 23% of their swings and we tallied a dozen blocks. Our service game was solid generally, though we could have made fewer errors. We had three players rate 2.0 or better and we scored better than 60% of the time when each served.

Offensively, we were better than in recent matches. We got kills on around 35% of our swings. Our freshman MB had a really good match, hitting .643, while our senior OH lead all hitters with 19 kills. We could have done with a few less errors as our efficiency was a bit below .200, but you could see we were trying to make the improvements we talked about on Monday.

Wednesday

After the match the night before, we didn’t want to go to hard in practice. We started with video review. Each of the coaches took a position group – MBs, OHs & RS, DSs – and went over clips from the LCU match. I was with the MBs. We focused on timing. It made timing issues very clear for them. They could easily see the difference between their good swings and their less powerful ones. The pin hitters also focused on timing with respect to their sets, keeping to the theme of the week.

Practice itself focused on those pin hitting timing elements. Basically, we just did serve receive to attack vs. a block and defense. As a second phase, we added an attack to also work on things from the transition side of things. All together we were on the court not much more than an hour.

Thursday

We carried on in this practice the themes for the week. That means working on offensive timing and getting back to aggressive attacking. We started off with Brazilian tennis as our warm-up. From there we shifted into an out-of-system game to work on high, hard swings. We shifted from there to more in-system work using the same type of pass-to-attack drill we did Wednesday. That rolled into 6 v 6 action.

We started with a variation on 22 v 22. In this version we gave a team a win big point if they scored on a right side attack during the initial rally. We also whistled any rally dead and awarded a point to the other team if there was a failure to cover. Otherwise, it was normal rules. After a couple of games of that, it was on to a standard game with a bonus. If a team turned a cover ball into a successful attack, they got a bonus point.

All in all we were quite pleased with the attacking play. Definitely more aggressive than we’ve seen in recent times.

Friday

We did an early practice before hopping on the bus. Most of it was carry over from the work we did earlier in the week – namely focusing on attack timing and aggressiveness. We started with Speedball back row 4s as a kind of warm-up. After that we did a hitting drill initiated by a serve where our OHs and RSs had to attack areas of the court successfully with netting. Basically, that was about reaching high and staying away from hitting to Zone 6.

Next up we did rotation-based receive to attack. We made it competitive by splitting the team into 3 groups of passers and hitters and giving them four serves in each rotation. Group with the most kills (not playing the ball out) won. This was followed by full 6 v 6 play in a repeat of Thursday’s 22 v 22 variation. We wrapped up with some servers vs. passers.

We left campus at about 10:00am for the long trip south. All together it was about 11 hours. That, though, included a stop for an early dinner at the home of one of our seniors who lives along the way. Always nice to get a home cooked meal during your travels!

Saturday

The last match of our first time through the conference was at Kingsville. They finished 3rd in 2016 and were picked to repeat that in the preseason voting. After defeating Cameron on Friday, they entered our match at 5-4 in LSC play.

All in all, while we lost 3-0, I was not overly dissatisfied with our performance. The first set wasn’t great. In particular, we just could not stop their offense. After that, though, we definitely stepped things up. Sets two and three were both quite tight. Our serving gave them problems and we were attacking more aggressively than we’ve done. We got our kill % back above 30%, though still need to push that even higher to have real success.

That said, the annoying thing is that we continue to have stupid “Who’s ball?” type of moment. We’re more than 20 matches into the season if you count the ones we played in Argentina, and there are still times when dumb stuff happens because of confusion about responsibility or players simply failing to do their jobs correctly.

Coaching Log – October 9, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

The Lone Star Conference standings weren’t really all that much more clear after the weekend’s results. Notable was West Texas losing to both Western New Mexico and Eastern New Mexico. Also, Kingsville dropped a pair of 3-2 matches at home to Angelo and Tarleton. At 5-1, Tarleton topped the league going in to the new week, and is in a strong position given who they’ve beaten already. Below there, the next eight teams are within 2 losses of each other.

Monday

Strictly video for the team today – aside from morning weight training. We broke the team into three groups and they watched footage from different matches we’ve played so far. It was on them to critique themselves – positively and negatively – with an eye toward how we can get better.

Tuesday

Back to split team training. Both groups did basically the same set of exercises. A big focus was on improving our middle play. We also did some work to diversify the offense a bit. This was all done in the context of serve receive and defense transition.

A number of the teams in the conference played non-conference matches this night. They all won, which was good.

Wednesday

We started the session with split group work. While the OHs and DS worked on some serve & pass, the MBs, RS, and Setter first did some blocking, then worked on offensive connections. A 6 v 6 game followed. In this case, only the pin hitters could attack, and they had to swing cross-court. Every time a rally ended we gave the winning team a down ball, but mixed players around every so often. That kept them from wearing down in what was definitely an up-tempo game. We played to 25, then switched it up so the attacks had to be line – or line/6 – for another game.

After that we did a kind of offense vs. defense game in rotations. On side served every ball. Initially, they played first to three points based on simple rally wins. The receiving team could not rotate until they won one of these mini games. To make it a bit tougher, after a while we shifted to wash scoring. After the initial serve rally, we initiated a free ball to the serving team. One team had to win both rallies to earn a point. The games were still to 3 points.

Thursday

We did a session of maybe 1 hour and 40 minutes before hopping on the bus to start are weekend road trip. We did a lot of serve and pass interspersed with 6 v 6 play. For the first part of practice we only had one middle, so we needed to give her some breaks.

We did two versions of game play. One was a variation where one side received free balls and attacked at a defending team. The defensive side got 2 points for a stuff block and one point for a good dig-set-attack sequence. They didn’t need a kill, just a good swing beyond the block. We went for time, then flipped the attacking side. There were two total rounds, with the team accumulating the most points as defenders winning (offense got no points).

The other game was the wash drill I mentioned above from Wednesday’s session. We focused on the rotations in receive that featured our freshman MB. That was to keep working on developing her connection with the setter on different sets. Also, she continues to need to improve her spacing.

Friday

It was back on the road for a match against defending league champions Angelo this day. They came in 3-3 in conference. Despite that record, they clearly represented a significant challenge. They were #16 in the national poll and featured the best offense in the conference by the numbers. What we found out during warmups was they had three players who were either starters or regular contributors out due to injury. That shifted them from primarily a 6-2 offense to a 5-1.

We should have been able to challenge them, but we came up short. At times we hardly looked like we’d ever played together before. We served them well, and had them scrambling often, but just couldn’t take the chances we were given. Our offense was pathetic, hitting at just .053 in terms of efficiency.

Saturday

Back to Tarleton for a match-up with last year’s runners-up. They came in at #15 in the national poll. Here too we discovered the opposition had suffered a key injury. Their All-American OH sustained a foot injury the night before in their win over Cameron.

We came in with a MUCH better attitude and took the match to them. In particular, our block made a big impact. We had 5 or 6 in the first set alone, and ended up with 13 overall. Despite the fact they had more than double our kills in the first set, we pulled off the win. After that, though, it was down hill. Offensively, we were even more impotent than we’d been the night before. Both our middles hit negative. This is definitely a major concern, though we were pleased to see that our starting OPP is getting more aggressive in attack.